A word of warning: This post is long, and it gets personal. If you're not in the mood for that, you can close it now.
In a previous post, I mentioned that yoga and meditation could help your anxiety. This time I wanted to share a small part of my experiences with anxiety in the past few years.
To put this out there before I get started... sharing this story is one of the hardest things I've done. I've wanted to do it for well over a year, and if you're reading this, it means I finally felt comfortable enough to publish it.
What about anxiety?
It all started around 2010, around the same time I started university.
I'm not referring to that feeling of nervousness when you do something outside of your comfort zone - that's good for you and you grow from it. I'm referring to that anxiety that hits you at moments when you don't expect it. That feeling of fear and helplessness that comes out of nowhere to almost paralyze you.
I have what is called a social anxiety disorder, and have been through periods of depression in the past few years of my life. This is not a self-diagnosis.
This post was written many months ago, and I was adamant that I wanted to publish it there and then. Some people encouraged me to do so, others didn’t. A lot of time has passed, and I’ve learned more about myself and those around me.
I initially thought of creating this site as a means of showcasing my professional life, but then this post came to mind back in 2016. This is my story of a personal battle I have been fighting for
a few years much longer than I first thought.
In my first post on this site, I wrote about how I was “leaving the darkness behind me and heading towards the light and the positive.” That was well over a year ago, and it was a moment when I believed I could overcome anything that I came across, alone. I was foolish to think so, and the months since are the proof.
I first started writing this as I recovered from an anxiety attack that had lasted a few hours. I kept adding to it as I experienced others or recovered from some.
Yes, this post is about my 25-year-old self's personal battle with social anxiety, and at times, depression.
Just writing that sentence made me think twice about why I was doing this. Why? Because I can only guess what some of you might be thinking right now. But that's part of my problem; over-thinking things and allowing others' possible judgments to rule over my life.
I’ve personally had to endure long periods of anxiety and fear that, at times, have completely taken over my life. I have fought it and beat it, many times. I have never given up hope and have no plans of doing so.
When I refer to anxiety, I’m not referring to being nervous about an event coming up, or being a bit on edge about a new experience. For me, it has been countless moments when I experience a feeling of helplessness and fear that I wouldn’t have thought possible.
I would be sitting in a lecture at university when I'd suddenly panic. A million thoughts would run through my head, and I'd just need to get the hell out of there, fast.
I could be on a night out with friends when I'd suddenly get all sweaty and anxious. I wasn't able to figure out why or what was causing it, so most of the time my reaction was to flee.
I had no idea what was going on for the first few months and years. I'd miss lectures and events just cos I was scared of this happening again, for whatever reason.
I couldn't find the courage to mention this to any of my friends out of fear of being judged or looked at in a different way. I couldn't tell my parents for reasons I still do not know until today.
It was a time of loneliness, despite being surrounded by so many people.
As explained to me, anxiety has its ups and downs, and you must let it work through its cycle when it’s on its way up while making the effort to lessen its effects over time.
You don’t “just stop” feeling anxious (and don't say that to someone having an anxiety or panic attack, please). It has to go through its own cycle, reaching a peak that is often scary, then coming back down to “normality” and calmness. You need to ride that roller coaster and remember that it will get better if you want it to. This, together with your own little techniques to calm yourself down, will help you get through it time after time until it's gone.
The techniques you use can vary from breathing exercises to listening to music. The latter is something I truly believe in. I’ve even tried a few other methods that have worked for me; going to the gym, playing a sport, and watching comedy. It all depends on how you feel at the time and what works best for you.
I've personally found music and physical activity to help the most. The latter wasn't always possible in the past couple of years because of some persistent injuries and health issues, but I'm finally back into it and it feels great.
When things aren't going well or life is getting too stressful, the anxiety can come back every time you do a particular activity or visit a particular place. That’s when you really need to push and fight whatever is causing it. Speaking to a professional or someone who has gone through the same situation is usually the most productive way of finding ways to put up that fight.
At this point, I just want to say this:
If someone reaches out to you about experiencing anxiety or depression, or both, listen to what they have to say. Do not jump to conclusions. Do not try to fix their problems there and then. There is no need to do much more than listen and be there for them in the moment when they’re at their most vulnerable. In most cases, being able to talk to someone is the first step to recovery.
I’ve had to fight through this on many occasions, both at home and elsewhere. Many times I have taken the “easy way out” of running away. You go into the typical “fight or flight” mode. I would leave my friends on a night out with no explanation and head home, and I would miss trips abroad that I would have been looking forward to. It’s not that I didn’t know any better, but I hadn’t opened up to anyone about it and I hadn’t yet looked for any solutions.
That’s not to say that, at times, you won’t need to leave a place or cancel a trip. Those moments might still happen, even after finding the best help you can. Reducing those moments to a minimum is when you know you’re making progress.
At this time, I want to apologise to those of you who’ve had me do this to you. I apologise for not being honest about why I did it, and for not trying to find a solution earlier.
At times, I’ve lost control in my life. I let the anxiety dictate where I went, when I did something, and how I did it. The brain is impressively powerful yet equally scary. It can be your most productive tool and your most destructive one.
My only advice is to open up to someone. Do not try to handle it all alone. Even if you can’t see it right now, there are people there to help you. Family, friends, professionals. Find the one, or more, that works for you.
This was the longest it’s ever taken me to publish a post, and I’ve written a few hundred professionally in the past couple of years. It was also the hardest ever to hit the Publish button for. I have a sense of relief as I come to the end of it, but I'm sure I'm shaking as I see this go public.
Ever since this all began, I've taken steps to better my own situation. I've spoken with doctors and therapists, opened up to my closest friends, and had long conversations with my family. It does not mean that I don't still experience moments like the ones I mentioned above. I've just gotten better at understanding them, and many times, controlling them. I look forward to seeing myself get even better at it in the coming years.
If you’ve taken the time to read this, thank you.
Before I close off, I just want to clarify that this post was not written to garner pity. As many of those close to me know, I don't like to be the center of attention. I am just tired of keeping all this to myself and not being able to explain why I did certain things in certain ways, and sometimes still do.
I'm not the best at putting my thoughts into words when face to face with someone, so this was my way of finding an alternative method to sharing my thoughts and feelings. I could go into a lot more detail, so I might follow this up with more specific posts.
My aim for this one is to raise a little awareness about anxiety and depression to those closest to me. Here’s to hoping I can inspire someone to speak up if they are experiencing something similar, or to listen if a friend or loved one comes knocking. There are plenty of people out there ready to help. If you haven't found that person yet, it doesn't mean they don't exist.
There is no shame in speaking up about your problems. It’s the best thing you can do for your own well-being. Take care of yourselves. xx